The Pete Rose mess just will not go away. Now a new book is out trying to say something new about this old scandal about which many young baseball fans hardly know. After all, Rose was banned from baseball by his own agreement in 1989. An oped piece by the author of the latest book on Rose recently appeared in The New York Times and once again I am obliged to set the record straight.
Kostya Kennedy, whose book on Rose ignited this new, little fray, wants Rose to be afforded a vote to determine whether he should be a member of the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. Kennedy claims Rose is alone as a banned player who has never received a vote. He ignores the old Black Sox "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, who might have been a better hitter than Rose (Jackson's lifetime batting average was .356 while Rose hit .303) but who has been banned from baseball since the scandal broke over his involvement in fixing the 1919 World Series.
Kennedy makes other errors but his failure to remember Jackson is damning. Ted Williams led an abortive attempt to revive efforts to get Jackson named to the Hall of Fame but that effort dimmed quickly when Williams was alerted to the fact that helping Jackson might also help Rose. Teddy Ballgame told me he hoped Rose would never be honored at the Hall.
Here is where Kennedy goes off the track. To be afforded a vote that might have some consequence at the Hall of Fame, Rose needs first to be reinstated by the commissioner of Major League Baseball. As Kennedy points out, the Hall rules prohibit election, and thus even a vote, if the player is on the so-called "Ineligible List." Rose, Jackson and others are on that list. No one has ever been reinstated from that list. No one. Kennedy ignores that blunt reality.
Why would Rose be reinstated? The answer is he will not be unless some commissioner takes the risk that such reinstatement will not reduce the deterrent effect of the no-gambling rule. Suppose that deterrent is reduced and a virulent spate of gambling breaks out in baseball. One thing we know is the gambling prohibition works perfectly. Everyone in baseball is wary of gambling because the punishment is so severe. Gambling is the one capital crime of baseball, and it is well absorbed into the baseball DNA. The issues with performance enhancing drugs should not be confused with the gambling policies.
With his new book, Kennedy makes the mistake of believing the Rose case is about Rose. He wants Rose to get a vote. But he fails to see that for any commissioner the Rose case is about the deterrent effect of the no gambling rule and not about Rose.
Like Kennedy, another person who misses that point is Rose himself. The Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver once asked me the killing question:
"Look Commissioner, if Rose is allowed into the Hall of Fame, does that mean a pitcher like me with over 300 wins can bet on baseball?"
He answered himself by pointing out there cannot be two standards for players, with great players being able to gamble and know the honor and other rewards of the Hall of Fame will still accrue.
Kennedy ignores the reality the Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball are two separate institutions. Banishment from baseball was properly determined by the Hall to have the draconian consequence of eliminating a great player such as Rose or Shoeless Joe from election.
It may sell books for Kennedy to try to focus on getting a vote for Rose at the Hall. But until someone convinces a commissioner to abandon the deterrent the gambling prohibition imposes, this plaintive cry for a meaningless vote for Rose is sound and fury signifying nothing.